Sled dog veterinarians

A majority of Iditarod veterinarians belong to the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (I.S.D.V.M.A.), a group which, according to its membership materials, has “furthering the cause of the sport of mushing” as a main objective. This creates a conflict of interest, because mushing often endangers the health and sometimes the life of these dogs. The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association’s involvement includes:

Veterinarians have profited from the pain and agony sled dogs have been forced to endure in the Iditarod and in musher's kennels.

Veterinarians have profited from the pain and agony sled dogs have been forced to endure in the Iditarod and in musher’s kennels.

  • Sponsoring the Iditarod
  • Endorsing permanent tethering as a “preferred” method of confining dogs although animal protection groups and the United States Department of Agriculture have determined this practice to be “inhumane.” The permanent chaining of dogs is prohibited in all cases when federal law applies.

    Chained dog lives in dilapidated structure. Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

    Chained dog lives in dilapidated structure. Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

  • Having members who have accepted funds for their research from the Iditarod Trail Committee
  • Having members who act as veterinary volunteers during the Iditarod, thereby saving the Iditarod Trail Committee thousands of dollars and enriching the prize pot
  • Having members who accept money for their participation in the race and who accept  gifts such as free hotel rooms and rental cars from race sponsors
  • Having mushers among its membership, including at least one that markets mushing and the Iditarod to schoolchildren (Sonny King, DVM)
  • Reserving voting privileges for “veterinarians with trail experience on recognized sled  dog races,” thereby making it difficult for veterinarians who oppose mushing to be involved in policy decisions
  • Encouraging the media to compare dogs to human athletes to explain “sudden death” among dogs in the Iditarod
  • Providing pro-Iditarod statements to the press to lessen the impact of dog deaths and  injuries on public opinion
  • Inviting any non-veterinarian “who supports our objectives and wishes to encourage our  efforts” to become members

    Veterinarians give dogs massive doses of antibiotics to keep them racing in the Iditarod.

    Veterinarians give dogs massive doses of antibiotics to keep them racing in the Iditarod.

The Iditarod veterinarians who are also I.S.D.V.M.A. members are not independent and objective observers and protectors of dog welfare. Instead, they are people with a strong allegiance to the mushing community and the Iditarod.

Reasons why International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association members support the Iditarod:

Dr. Paula Kislak: “The veterinarians who belong to the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association are industry veterinarians, basically. They’re a small group of veterinarians whose livelihood is supported by the industry of dog sled racing. So, they may or not be corrupt, but they’re certainly very much invested in believing that what they’re doing is OK, and invested literally, financially, as well as emotionally in promoting it. But they do constitute a small percentage of veterinarians that think this is OK.”

- Dr. Paula Kislak, DVM, is president of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights.
- Her remarks were made on the Animal Voices radio show, Toronto, Canada on February 28, 2006

Dogs drink water containing flakes of rust.

Dogs drink water containing flakes of rust.

Race veterinarians provide pro-Iditarod statements that are part of a strategy of promoting mushing and portraying it in a favorable light. This strategy is outlined below:

  • Absolve the Iditarod Trail Committee and mushers of blame for dog deaths by attributing  deaths to mysterious causes or susceptibilities. Never intimate that the stress and exertion of running might be factors.
  • Encourage people to think of sled dogs as being similar to human athletes.
  • Raise no questions about how the dogs are treated in their kennels or during the Iditarod.
  • Stress that the number of dogs who die in the Iditarod is the same as the number who die under less arduous conditions.
  • Praise mushers for their dog care, without mentioning that mushers are neglecting or abusing their dogs.
  • Tell the media that additional tests will be done on dead and injured dogs and do not mention when the test results will be available. This delay encourages people to think the causes are very difficult to determine, while avoiding the issues of overexertion and abuse as causes of death and injury. It allows veterinarians  to present no results or to claim that no causes could be determined. Most importantly, it allows the positive hype about the race to continue without the public learning the specifics of dogs deaths and injuries.

Dog Care Needs Improvement

The Iditarod does not require mushers to be certified in canine first aid. Mushers are not required to carry first aid kits in their sleds.

The Iditarod’s chief veterinarian does not require mushers to have canine first aid certification. Mushers are not required to carry first aid kits in their sleds.

  1. In order to better diagnose heart problems, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) should require each dog to have an electrocardiogram a week before the start of the race.
  2. The Official Iditarod Race Rules do not require all dogs to have physical examinations by veterinarians during the Iditarod. Dog deaths and injuries would  decrease if they were given complete physicals at every checkpoint.
  3. Within five days before the start of the race, each dog should be required to have a complete blood work-up, chest x-rays and a urine test.
  4. The Iditarod Trail Committee does not require that mushers be certified in first aid for dogs or in canine CPR. These certifications should be made a requirement.
  5. During the race, mushers are required to rest their dogs for only one twenty-four hour period and two eight-hour periods. The ITC should require many more eight-hour rest stops.
  6. The Iditarod Trail Committee should set minimum veterinarian to dog ratios, so that all dogs receive complete and high quality physical exams at the checkpoints. The ITC Dog Care Measures calls for a staff of approximately 35 veterinarians, including approximately five novices. This is inadequate, because as many as 1,000 dogs can go through each of the 24 (as of the year 2000) checkpoints at all hours of the day and night.

    Dog shelters are buried in the snow. Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

    Dog shelters are buried in the snow.
    Photo courtesy of SledDogma.org

Iditarod vet’s dog races in the Iditarod

“The Golden Stethoscope Award, given to a veterinarian deemed most helpful by the mushers, was claimed also by a Norwegian. Ingrid Wiik Haugbjørg’s tireless energy and willingness to help at the Nome dog lot was recognized. Like all Iditarod veterinarians, Haugbjørg is a volunteer. Interestingly, Hagbjørg had a dog in this year’s race. Bjørnar Andersen, fourth place, ran one of her dogs.”

- Jon Little, Cabela’s Iditarod website, March 21, 2005
- Little formerly wrote for the Anchorage Daily News

How much of a “vet check” is actually done by a vet? Are they done too quickly?

“Dog after dog paraded past [Bob] Sept, a former Iditarod chief veterinarian, and now the operator of the Bering Sea Animal Clinic in Anchorage, for quick physicals. Sept and his assistants examined eyes, ears, mouths, abdomens, and feet.”

- Lew Freedman, Anchorage Daily News, March 2, 1989

Veterinarian refers to a dog as an inanimate object:

Veterinarian Jim Brick speaking about a dog named Yellowknife: “It was labored breathing. It had a temperature. It had been on IV fluids and it had been on IV antibiotics.”

- Alaska Public Radio Network, website, March 10, 2006
(Yellowknife subsequently died.)

“‘Some of these little dogs, they’re like a little machine…’ he [Mike Yacapraro] said”

- Mike Yacapraro is a veterinarian
- Chris Kick, The Daily Record, March 31, 2007

Iditarod dog in dog truck before start of race. Photo attributed to Travis S on flickr, March 7, 2009

Iditarod dog in dog truck before start of race.
Photo attributed to Travis S on flickr, March 7, 2009

Iditarod veterinarians violate oath:

Janice Blue: “I have to ask what is the code for veterinarians in animal medicine? What are you supposed to be, what is your mission, or oath that you all take? Because aren’t there veterinarians at these checkpoints? And how are they allowing this to happen?”

Dr. Paula Kislak: “Well that’s a good question. Of course, the oath that we take is primarily like human medical doctors to above all do no harm and to protect the well being, and health and welfare of the animals. And that’s impossible to do under these circumstances. There are no requirements for checkups. Some of the mushers stop at checkpoints for less than five minutes, and there are multiple dogs and multiple mushers, and there’s no way that a single veterinarian that may be at a checkpoint would be checking these animals up. There’s no requirement to do so, and it obviously isn’t done, given the fact that the mushers may be there five minutes or less, and they may have eight or 10 dogs, and there may be many mushers. So, that’s just a physical impossibility. It’s not being done and it’s not being required to be done, so the welfare of the animals is not being looked after.”

- Janice Blue is the host of the radio program Go Vegan Texas, KPFT
- Dr. Paula Kislak, DVM, is the president of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights

These dogs raced 1,000 miles to Nome. They weren't even given shelters to protect them from the frigid cold, snow or wind. The dogs could easily fight because they are tethered so close to each other.

These dogs raced 1,000 miles to Nome. They weren’t even given shelters to protect them from the frigid cold, snow or wind. The dogs could easily fight because they are tethered so close to each other.

Veterinarian doesn’t want people to see dead dog:

“Because the Safety checkpoint is only about 20 miles from Nome, there were also a lot of spectators standing around watching. The vet really didn’t want to unload a dead dog from the sled in front of that crowd, [Mark] Nordman said.”

- Mark Nordman is the race marshal
- Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, March 18, 2007

[The dead dog was Ramy Brooks' dog Kate. He transported her body to Nome.]

Veterinarians give Humanitarian Awards for good dog care to mushers who race sick dogs:

- Veterinarians allow Jake Berkowitz to race sick dogs and give him Humanitarian Award:

“Jake Berkowitz says his dogs have a bug and are lethargic.”

- Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, Tweet, March 10, 2013

“Another top contender, Big Lake musher Jake Berkowitz, is sick and so are his dogs, he said. The huskies have been vomiting and, like several teams, suffering from diarrhea.”

- Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, March 10, 2013

“Jake Berkowitz’s dogs also caught the stomach bug that’s going around.”

- Emily Schwing, KUAC Fairbanks, March 12, 2013

— Veterinarians gave Jake Berkowitz Humanitarian Award for good dog care:

“Jake Berkowitz, the Big Lake musher who made it to Nome with 15 dogs in harness, won the award for dog care Sunday at the Iditarod finishers’ banquet in Nome.”

Anchorage Daily News, March 18, 2013

- Ed Iten races sick dogs and gets vet’s Humanitarian Award:

“Considering his dogs struggles with diarrhea from Day 2 of the Iditarod all the way to his 24-hour stop in the ghost town of Iditarod, he’s [Ed Iten's] pleased.

‘I saw my first turd today,’ he said.”

- Kevin Klott, Anchorage Daily News, March 11, 2007
[The 2007 Iditarod started on March 3.]
[After the 2007 Iditarod, the veterinary staff gave Ed Iten its Humanitarian Award. - Iditarod website, 2007]

Whip used on sled dogs, photo attributed to wikimedia

Whip used on sled dogs, photo attributed to wikimedia

Veterinarian doesn’t suggest pulling sick dogs from race:

“Their diarrhea had not improved and I could tell they were not as healthy as at the start of the race. Although they drank as much as the other dogs they were becoming dehydrated. If the medication did not kick in, they would begin to lose weight and the physical strain of running would take them down even faster. I was concerned enough that I called the veterinarian’s attention to it. He gave me more medication.”

Scdoris, Rachael and Steber, Rick. No End in Sight: My Life as a Blind Iditarod Racer, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007

More information on poor veterinary care